The Department of Science and Technology briefed the Committee on its Annual Performance Plan and budget for the year 2016/17, focusing on key issues such the role of science, technology and innovation in the country and alluding to the fact that it will grow over time as the Department focuses on the three phases aligned to the National Development Plan. The Department sought to increase the number of researchers supported to 22 032; publication of ISI-accredited research articles supported to 33 700 by 2019, respectively; and also double the number of articles co-published with researchers on the Continent.
Increasing the number of graduates as well as their representivity was another key strategic goal setting its target to 70 960 post-graduate students supported; and planning to place 4 200 graduates in science, engineering, technology and innovation institutions, and ensuring that three times the number of master’s and PhDs in areas of priority are identified in the National Research and Development Strategy and Three Year Interim Plan in 2012 (which is the baseline). The DST aimed to achieve these goals by 2019.
The National Research Foundation consumes the most budget allocation amounting to R2 857 998 000 reflecting a steady increase in the subsequent financial years. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research was allocated R1 086 589 000, also showing a steady increase over the next two years. The least budget allocated entity was the Academy of Science of South Africa with just a R23 106 000 allocation. The major constraints to achieving its objectives were funding constraints and sup-optimal coordination across the NSI.
Members asked what the Department was doing about the drought that facing South Africa; the coffee and tea programme in the North West; programmes that would ensure that the Department provides access to science and technology in the rural areas and previously disadvantaged communities; the terms and conditions of international funding; programmes that encourage learners from school level to take an interest in science and technology; slow growth rate for previously disadvantaged students doing post-graduate studies; whether the Department was getting value for money from its entities and programmes; whether the Department was considering establishing the same programme as that of the Department of Health which sends students for training to be medical doctors in Cuba; what the Department was doing about the Moringa project in the North West; the indigenous knowledge in communities; and whether those communities received any sort of benefit from the Department.
Water availability was a significant constraint to crop production and increasing drought tolerance of crops was one of the steps to gaining a greater yield stability. The Department received funding from international organisations, however, the funding should be aligned to the mandate i.e. strengthen the programmes that the Department was doing. As far as value for money from its entities was concerned, all its entities received unqualified audit opinions from the Auditor General, and the entities were monitored through quarterly and annual reports.
Briefing by the Department of Science and Technology on 2016/17 Annual Performance and Budget
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) focused on key issues in the presentation. He highlighted the role of Science, Technology and Innovation aligned to the National Development Plan (NDP). He noted the NDP projects, and said the role of innovation in the economy would grow over time, and identified three phases that would foster innovation growth in the economy:
First phase (2012-2017), the focus should be on intensifying research and development spending, and emphasising opportunities linked to existing industries.
Second phase (2018-2023), the country should lay the foundation for more intensive improvements in productivity where innovation across state, business and social sectors should start to become pervasive.
Third phase (2023-2030), the emphasis should be on consolidating the gains of the second phase, with greater emphasis on innovation, improved productivity, more intensive pursuit of a knowledge economy and better exploitation of comparative and competitive advantages in an integrated continent.
Dr Mjwara further highlighted the strategic goals of the Department, emphasising to maintain and increase the relative contribution of South African researchers to global scientific output
- Proxy indicator 1: 22 032 researchers supported by 2019
- Proxy indicator 2: publication of at least 33 700 ISI-accredited research articles supported by 2019
- Proxy indicator 3: number of articles co-published with researchers on the African continent doubled
On strategic goal 3, the DST aimed to increase the number of high-level graduates and improve their representivity
- Proxy indicator 1: 70 960 post-graduate students supported by 2019
- Proxy indicator 2: 4 200 graduates and students placed in science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) institutions by March 2019
- Proxy indicator 3: 5 521 160 people reached through science engagement activities by 2019
- Proxy indicator 4: three times the number of master’s and PhDs in areas of priority identified in the NRDS and TYIP by 2019 (measured on a 2012 baseline)
On strategic goal 4, the DST aimed to derive a greater share of economic growth from R&D-based opportunities and partnerships. Instruments funded in support of increased localisation, competitiveness and R&D led industry development included the following:
- Centres of Competence
- Incubators (mLabs SA)
- Sector wide technology assistance packages
- Technology Development Grant Scheme
- Firm Level Technology Assistance Packages
- Science, Engineering and Technology Industry Internship Programme
- R&D Networks
- Advanced Metals Initiative Development Networks
Under this strategy the 2016/17 annual target was 35 number of knowledge and innovation products patents, prototypes, technology demonstrators or technology transfer packages added to the Intellectual Property (IP} portfolio through fully funded or co-funded research initiatives by 31 March 2017. This was up from an estimated 25 in 2015/16.
MTEF financial resources for the DST and its entities
The budget estimates reflected a highest estimate for research development and support amounting to R4 200 596 000 for the 2016/17 financial year, and a steady increase in the subsequent financial years. It was followed by socio-economic innovation partnerships amounting to R1 792 876 000, however, this item showed a steady decrease in the subsequent financial years. The lowest budget allocation was the International Cooperation and Resources item but with a steady increase in the next two financial years.
Entities Budget allocation
Topping the list of allocations was the National Research Foundation, with a budget allocation amounting to R2 857 998 000, also reflecting a steady increase in the following financial years. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) followed with a budget allocation amounting to R1 086 589 000 also showing a steady increase over the next two years. The least budget allocated entity was the Academy of Science of South Africa with just a R23 106 000 allocation.
The two most pressing high level constraints to the realisation of DST planning objectives included funding constraints and sub-optimal coordination across the NSI.
The Chairperson commended the DG for the presentation and the great work the Department continued to do. She asked about the role the Department was playing to assist government on the drought issue facing the country, with the understanding that there were budget constraints that may impose an obliteration to fully address this issue. Vodacom had invited the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to the event. The Chairperson attended the event and learnt about a new system that was launched by Vodacom, and the Department of Health was already using this system, which assisted in fast-tracking and coordination as well as identifying problems within the agricultural space. She was told that the system is going to work as following: when the name of a farmer was entered it would display the farm and the type of farming that the person was involved in. She asked whether the Department was going to come up with the same type of system or similar.
Mr O Sefako (ANC; NW) on innovation of indigenous practices and products used, such as the indigenous coffee and tea project in the North West, asked to what extent it would benefit the community at large, as the Department planned to innovate it. On funding challenges highlighted in the presentation, was the funding received from overseas in a form of donation or loan? If it were a donation, he asked whether there were any strings attached or conditions that may impede the Department from achieving some of its goals.
Mr A Singh (ANC; KZN), based on item 19 in the presentation in respect of the number of graduates showcased, asked about the plan or programme to increase that number, and also the Department’s plans to encourage learners from high school level to take interest in the science subject.
Mr C Smit (DA; LM) asked about the role of the Department in terms of stimulating the previously disadvantaged communities to make sure that they had opportunities to become part of the market for science and technology as well as research. In deep villages and rural communities there was a lack of science labs and sometimes maths and science teachers, this was part of the Department’s mandate. He believed the Department could play a much bigger role to ensure that it stimulated that, because the same people who already had access to labs and maths and science teachers continued to be stimulated and those who did not continued to be left behind.
Mr Smit asked what was the stance of the Department on mobile labs to move around in different provinces engaging with communities, and the Department of Basic Education partnering to ensure that these were presented to the communities who actually needed them the most.
In terms of small business development, for instance in light of the Moringa as an indigenous product, there were business people with funding at their disposal who would want to take this indigenous product and run with it. Had the Department considered extending these indigenous products and practices to commodify them or extend to other products.
The Chairperson asked about the Department’s plans to have any legislation this year on anything related to research, science and technology, or perhaps even in the following year. On the entities funded by the Department, did they fulfil the mandate that it was being funded for and actually get the value for money. If so, she asked the Department to furnish some details of the programmes as well as whether there was a balance between women and historically previously disadvantaged people as far as assisting and empowering them.
She asked for some clarity regarding the focus on marine and the research being done in the Antarctica.
Dr Mjwara responded that the Moringa product currently available in pharmacies in liquid form was produced in bulk and processed appropriately and the supplier of the now commodified Moringa medicine.
- Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director-General: Technology Innovation, said through the Space Agency, the Department had been able to monitor water in various dams in order to help municipalities within the vicinity of those dams, which was one of the contributions that the Department has been able to make in light of the issue of the drought. Through research there had been a development of drought resistant crops and these seeds would be made available next year. That required a lot of research, with contributions from other African research councils as well as the Agricultural Research Council of SA. Water availability was a significant constraint to crop production, and increasing drought tolerance of crops was one step to gaining greater yield stability. Excellent progress had been made using models to identify pathways and genes that could be manipulated through biotechnology to improve drought related issues. The Department made various scientific contributions including bio-safety and bio-security, because when a new crop variety was developed you need to look at how that is going to impact the integrity of genetics and other crops. In addition to maize, SA was a growing consumer of wheat and that wheat was being imported, so the DST was working on a wheat breeding programme to enable the Department to have significant amount of crops grown locally. The three very important crops were being considered to ensure that the country was prepared for the drought.
In relation to the coffee and the tea, this related to the work being done in the North West province. In one of the slides it was reflected that there was an academic programme for indigenous knowledge based in the North West University, this was a very unique programme because it was the only such programme in Africa. It looked at the existing knowledge and how it could be used, and the DST played the role of identifying knowledge holders (communities) – knowledge that had been used over the years. These communities were taken under a process of understanding that this knowledge would be exploited for the benefit of the community and there were agreements signed with the communities, and also trusts set aside for these communities. When research was being done, and the products have reached a stage of commodification or commercialisation, the communities benefit through the trusts set up for them.
On Moringa, the DST was currently looking scientifically on how and where Moringa was grown, when it was grown, and how managing the process of fertilising was done, as well as the process of harvesting. The most important thing was that you do not want to buy a Moringa product in Cape Town but when you purchase it elsewhere it had different characteristics. The scientific process was helping significantly in this regard. The Department went further to look at various active ingredients in a plant and this is the process where the bulk manufacturing industry began to look at using the active ingredient to fortify certain products. Certain products that were fortified from the Moringa were already in retail shops. And the bulk of people employed in the manufacturing plants for these products were young people and women.
Mr Patel noted that with regards to the drought what is happening is that the science community has organised itself effectively to provide support, they meet together to look at aspects on how to control the drought and what is the impact and where is the impact. They have been able to look at how the gathered information can be communicated to people, it is a bit of a challenge to reach out to the small farmers than it is the bigger farmers. In addition, looking at where the opportunities are, and where they can address those opportunities for the drought is key, for instance the new maize crop and water reservation.
The SMMEs were a big focus area in the Department’s current Strategic Plan. The Department had a range of initiatives that focused on supporting SMMEs in different ways. There were many community-based organisations and entrepreneurs at community level, the big role for DST was how to support them with technical support and extend some of their products to other complimentary products, and provide access to market. The Department supported about 2000 SMMEs on an annual basis ranging from chemicals, product development and electronics etc. in addition to this, in the past there were ideas shared between the DST and CSIR to look at essential and certain products, however, and it turned out that those untapped scientific products did not make a substantial difference in the bigger scheme of things (or, market), what was necessary was big interventions. The DST now worked closer with Cooperative e Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and local development agencies and the key thing that will unlock a lot of these activities was to build innovation strongly in the local economic spectrum. So now every local economic plan will include innovation, and then draw the DST closer to intervene where it is necessary in order to develop innovation at local level. The goal was to get innovation embedded stronger in the local economies.
On what the Department was doing to encourage kids in schools to spark an interest in science and technology, the DST has been working closely with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) over the years. The concept of schools of specialisation needs to be considered by provinces and this had already been launched in the Gauteng province. In a sense DST could assist more if the structure of science and technology were changed, in the next couple of years there would be a stronger drive towards launching more initiatives given the success of the programmes already launched in partnership with the DBE to ensure that science and technology continued to grow and ensuring that where there is talent, that talent is harnessed and pulled through to science and technology
Dr Mjwara said there were mobile labs in the Eastern Cape, particularly for the rural areas, although there was no science centre yet but the mobile labs bridged that gap, and if one visited the website there was a schedule of the mobile labs. In Limpopo, Giyani, there was a science centre linked to the mobile lab that reaches out to deep rural communities. It was the same with KZN, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.
In relation to the legislation programme, there were three bills under consideration which include the IKS (currently being processed by the Portfolio Committee), the Science and Technology Amendment Bill, and the NRF (National Research Foundation) Bill.
Funding from international entities was received only if it would strengthen what the DST does, and if there were an agenda not aligned with the South African agenda the DST does not accept the funding. There was a bilateral agreement with the UK where SA researchers have an opportunity to conduct some research in the UK, and a South African law that guards intellectual property that is discovered from the exchange programmes between SA and the UK.
In light of graduates, generally what has been done is, firstly; the DST has asked Stellenbosch University to conduct research in terms of why there were bottlenecks with previously disadvantaged students not going into post-graduate studying, that report had been provided. The DST was not surprised with the results because most of the previously disadvantaged students were the first generation going into university so when they completed their undergraduate studies were not able to go into post graduate unless they are provided full bursaries. Secondly, the Minister had just provided the NRF with guidelines on the bursary allocations, and there were targets in terms of women, and previously disadvantaged individuals. This was going to help in terms of changing the demographics and the DST worked very close with the NRF to ensure those targets were met and the DST would be able to question why certain targets had not been met, if and when they were not met. In terms of the high programme, there was a High School Programme called “Youth into Science Strategy” run under programme four. The programme was not curriculum based which ensures the exposure to Science and Technology, and the learners were normally taken out to camps during school recess. This was done through the Winter School in collaboration with Science Laboratories and Schools teaching Maths and Science. The DST was currently exploring the internet to see whether it can be exploited to provide science and technology.
On the number of women researchers, post-graduates and black students the DST was not happy with the numbers. Hence, at post-graduate level the DST was dealing with the bursary issues. At research level, it turned out that there is a large pool of women researchers who do not apply for funding at the NRF, so the DST was working with the NRF and the universities to try to understand the problem and understand how big the problem is in order to be able to rectify it appropriately. At the highest level, there were about 40% of women researchers as compared to men.
Value for money was measured through a number of initiatives. Entities getting clean or unqualified audits proved to be the best measure to see whether there was value for money. And when the entities publish their APPs and Strat Plans must be approved by the Minister, and in those plans there were targets set and collectively there was an agreement of the resources they would utilise. Another measure was to see whether the research being done was absorbed by government and the knowledge was found in the decision support systems.
Dr Mjwara was not familiar with the Vodacom tool. He asked for more details to be furnished about the name of the tool and the right people to contact to get more information on it.
On the marine side, SA had been informed that its oceans played a very important role in understanding global climate. This meant that SA had a lab whereby understanding what is happening in the east and west coast could provide and contribute to the knowledge and understanding of how the oceans were controlling the weather in general and how the changes happening on the marine affected global climate. There were a lot of resources in the marine, and those resources needed to be exploited sufficiently, hence, there is budget allocation to continue carry research on the marine. On the Antarctica side, the DST was the signatory of the countries that agreed to do research in Antarctica and preserve it. For instance, when there was a problem in the ozone layer, the DST had to go to Antarctica to understand what was the original status of the ozone layer because it was a prestigious environment not influenced by human activity, and use that as a baseline to do research on how the ozone layer could be protected. This also provided a unique area where research can be done to understand the earth where in other places it cannot be done.
Mr Sefako noted the good work being done by the DST was not well known within the communities, and organs of civil society. Perhaps more outreach programmes needed to be done to inform people about all this good work. He expressed his gratitude to the DST in helping kids coming from previously advantaged backgrounds to get their PhDs and post-graduate studies.
The Chairperson asked whether the Department had a similar programme to that of the Department of Health where it sent students to Cuba to get experiential training to become doctors.
Mr Smit said the fact that the Department was doing very well could not be challenged, however, it was the responsibility of Parliament to challenge the Department to do more and more. It seemed that some of the things mentioned were a repetition year in and out, it was all good and well with mobile labs but that was linked to universities. He emphasised that he would like to know about high schools, and even primary schools where science started off. The fact was that those schools out there without mobile labs, it was necessary to push the education with that, but there needed to be some role with science and technology to make sure that innovation reached out there. It would be satisfactory if out in the rural area, there were posts, advertisements seeking for people who had ideas of innovation and so forth. So a thorough outreach and access needed to be put in place.
Dr Mjwara said the Department was currently working on a programme of that nature, and at the appropriate time when it was finalised it would be shared with the Committee.
Mr Tommy clarified that the mobile labs were very structured programmes within universities and were utilised by maths, science and technology students within those universities.
On the outreach programme, this year the DST was finalising the implementation plan of the public engagement strategy and linked to that was the exhibition to showcase to those learners in rural communities, for instance in the Free State, all the entities of the DST were present showcasing the work that they did as well as careers available. This also happened in the Northern Cape in Sutherland including the work being done in the science centre.
On advocacy at higher level, two initiatives had been started, one called “ideas that work” started by the CSIR and it was a marketing, communication and advocacy campaign. The first phase had already been rolled out and in a few months the roll out for second phase would commence. This campaign profiled all the initiatives that the DST was presenting on. The second initiative, known as ‘’Mzantsi for Science’’ which will be implemented by June/July and was also a marketing and media campaign. Under the financial constraints, the DST has pulled together all the resources of the entities into this campaign which would market all the activities of the DST and its entities.
An official from the DST noted that there was a very strong project with the Japanese and sharing ideas about their technologies. This was beneficial because they dealt with these things on a bigger level.
The meeting was adjourned.